Sunday, November 13, 2016

Building Compassionate Communities Through Children's Picture Books

This has been a tough week. For many of us, the climate in the United States has been filled with acrimony.  Regardless of our own political leanings, we feel disenchanted and fearful for the future.

As I have always done in times of turmoil, I’ve turned to children’s picture books. They are a safe place me to process and reflect on what’s happening in the “real world.” They are also one of the strongest teaching tools I can use.

I think we can all agree that our children have to be our priority. If this is the way we are feeling, think about how they are reacting. As much as we try to shield them from hateful words and actions, they see and hear what is happening.

We have to model compassion, kindness, respect and acceptance, so that our future generations grow up with a vision of how to live with each other. We have to show our children that we can love one another despite our differences.

Change start with us.

In my library, I’m working on setting up a section of books that convey the messages I want to pass on to my students. I’m sure you have more to add to this list, so please help me build a list of books that we can use in our libraries and classrooms to build compassionate communities. 

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger - a bullying bull learns that he can change his ways once he understands how his insults and name calling hurts others.

The Skin You Live In by Michael Taylor - the simplicity of the text and illustrations deliver a powerful message about the diversity of skin colors and acceptance of differences.

It’s OK to be Different by Todd Parr - simple illustrations and text give a powerful message that “it’s OK to be different.”  Todd Parr has written many similar books that are great for reading with our very young children.

Same Difference by Calida Rawles - two cousins struggle with learning that the differences between them don’t matter. “You can be different and still be the same.” Watch the video for this one.

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz - a little girl takes a walk with her mom and learns about the different colors of us. I love the way the author describes the beautiful colors of people’s skin.

Same Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw— pen pals from across the world learn how they are the same and how they are different.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox - one of my all-time favorites, I love how this book illustrates the theme that, “whoever you are, where ever you are, there are little ones just like you all over the world.”

Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long - Otis, the tractor, reaches out to an inanimate scarecrow to let him know he’s a part of the farm family.

The Farmer by Mark Ludy - a hardworking, gentle farmer is faced with a series of disasters which devastate his crops. He is forced to sell some of his beloved animals, with the hope that he will be able to buy them back after the next harvest.

How to Heal A Broken Wing by Bob Graham - a young boy nurses a bird back to health, with the support of his mother. This story is about hoping for what is possible and healing from painful experiences.

Unspoken by Henry Cole - This wordless picture books illustrates the story of a farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding her a barn. She has to make a difficult choice and to find the courage to do what is right.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena - CJ and his grandmother take a bus ride after church one day. Along the way, CJ learns how to find beauty in the people and places around us.

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester (recommended for grades 3-6) - this book teaches that race is just a part of everyone’s story. Skin color is a small part of who we are.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh - the story of Sylvia Mendez, an American citizen of Mexico and Puerto Rican hearten who was denied enrollment in a “whites only” school.

Additional Resources:

Discover Kindness in the Classroom (Discovery Education 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pumpkin Time!

It's that time of year! Students are checking out library books about pumpkins, witches, and trick-or-treating! Must be Halloween! I thought I'd share of a few of my favorite literature-based pumpkin activities to get us all in the spirit of things.

One of my all-time favorite pumpkin books is Pumpkin Jack, by Jack Hubbell.

It's such a great book to use as a core literature link for a thematic science unit!

When I was teaching 1st grade, one of our favorite (months long) activities was to watch and record the decomposition of our own "Pumpkin Jack."  We carved Ol' Jack and left him in a tub or bowl or rot in the classroom for a while.  (Hint: don't stick a carved pumpkin in a plastic bin with the lid on...seriously...gross).

The kids recorded their observations about him, along with measurements of height and weight, in a journal that we kept. We started before we even carved Pumpkin Jack, and used the scientific method to predict what would happen. We also made a plan for when we would record our data, generally once a week or so in the beginning, and then once a month.

Loved that activity!

Next, we used How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara.  As you can imagine, this book is perfect for math.
When we visited the pumpkin patch for a field trip, I would grab three extra pumpkins.  After weighing and measuring all 3, I'd have the kids predict which one would have the most seeds.  Of course, they'd always guess the biggest one, but as they'd discover, that wasn't generally the case! Then I'd cut and gut the pumpkins and we would would undertake the process of counting seeds.  

Not an easy task with firsties, but it was the perfect opportunity for them to practice counting by 10s! 

A couple of my other "go-to" pumpkin books are From Seed to Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pumpkin. These two are perfect for teaching about the life cycle of pumpkins. I always made a huge pumpkin (bulletin board size) and then put life cycle labels on it to illustrate the life cycle of a pumpkin. We also used these two books as mentor texts of our "All About Pumpkins" informative writing.

There are so many great pumpkin books for creating a thematic unit -- those are just a few of my favorites! If you need some more ideas and resources to get you started, my Pumpkin Unit (with all of these activity resources and more) is available on my TpT store. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Writing with Mentor Texts: The "What," Why," and "How" of Using Mentor Texts to Facilitate Student Writing

In a previous post, I discussed the inspiration for this year's library theme, "What Writers Do." Certainly, it isn't something that is typically a focus in a library, but I'm finding that looking at books through the lens of the authors is a very enriching experience (for me and for the kids).

Here's what we've done so far:

To begin the theme, I read Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk. This picture book set the stage for the year.  In the book, the mouse (who lives in the library) becomes an author, and then inspires the students to become authors, as well.

Next, I had my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders make posters for me illustrating their ideas about "What Writers Do." I particularly love this one, submitted by a 5th grader.

I displayed the students' poster in the hallways, and then bound them into two big books that we keep in the library.

As the year has progressed, my library lessons have continued to come back to theme, as they will do throughout the year. For example, when discussing the difference between fiction and non-fiction books, we discussed the authors' purposes in writing books.

I've been using mentor texts to "unpack" what writers do. I read The Little Shop of Monsters, by Marc Brown and R.L. Stine, and the students pointed out how they "heard" R.L. Stine in the text. That led to a discussion of author's voice.

I wanted to enlist the aid of the classroom teachers in our theme, so I led an in-service about using mentor texts to facilitate writing.
We have a very accomplished, seasoned staff, and they have been using children's literature for years to facilitate writing, but most were not familiar with the current term, "mentor text." They completely understood what I was talking about, though, as I explained how I've been using books such as Library Mouse and The Little Shop of Monsters (thus the monster theme in the slides below).
I particularly liked this video by Peggy Semingson for giving a quick, succinct explanation of what mentor texts are. 
The "why" is always an important one for me, and what resonated most strongly with me was the idea that we "show, don't tell" kids about what writers do.
I love the idea of letting what kids notice in mentor texts guide writing lessons, rather than subscribing to a preconceived plan of what we are going to teach. This is something I've been trying to do more of in my own teaching...I'm sure it has a name, but I'm calling it "responsive teaching." Dr. Jane Hanson of the University of Virginia discussed how to follow the students' lead in this video by Reading Rockets.

After my presentation, teachers got together by grade level to plan how they can use mentor texts (or how they are already using them) in their writing instruction. It was so exciting to hear their plans! (I work with a talented group!)

I'd love to hear how other teachers and librarians are using mentor texts!

Special thanks to Laura Strickland of Whimsy Clips for the adorable monster clip art.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Teaching the ABCs and 123s of Fiction and Non-Fiction Books

For the last few weeks, I've been working with the kids on how to find library books with greater independence. One of my primary goals in library is to give the students the skills they need to quickly and easily find what their looking for.

This year, I spent two weeks teaching the 1st-5th graders a lesson I called, "The ABCs and 123s of Finding a Library Book."  The first week we focused on the ABCs of finding fiction books. The second week, we worked on the 123s of non-fiction books. 

I began by comparing our library sections to neighborhoods in which the books live.

With that analogy in mind, the students had a pretty easy time of understanding how to find the books with the call numbers (addresses). 

It was a rewarding endeavor for a couple of reasons:
1) quick results -- the kids were so much more independent, which made all of us feel successful
2) I could see the light bulbs going off throughout the lesson. One of the kids commented. "But that's so easy! And it makes so much sense!" 

It really does make sense. Library organization is very systematic, thanks to Melvil Dewey. You just have to know how to use the ABCs and 123s of call numbers!  I've made this resource available in my TpT store. It's editable, so you can modifiy the text to meet your needs. If you think you can use it, take a look!

To get our little ones (kindergarten) ready for the that lesson (when they are in 1st grade), I focused on teaching them the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I started by reading one of each type of book: Fall by Tanya Thayer was my non-fiction selection, and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves by Lucille Colandro. 

After reading the two books, we discussed the differences between them. Then we worked with  a set of pocket chart cards I developed. 
The cards featured the pages of two original stories I created, All About Fall (non-fiction) and Mouse Gets Ready for Fall (fiction).

We had already discussed the characteristics of each type of books (while reading our two examples), and we had gone over these posters, so they had a good idea of the features of each type.
As I held up and read each cards to the kids, I had them raise one finger if they thought the card belonged to a fiction book, or two fingers if it belonged to non-fiction fiction. We sorted the cards into the two categories. 

They nailed it, of course!  Smart little kiddos! I was happy to hear from classroom teachers that they were using the terms appropriately in class. That's always the true test of whether they've generalized the skills.

If you can use this resource, it's also available in my store. Take a look here.

Happy Fall!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Our Library Mouse

It has been such a great start to the year in our library!  Certainly part of my confidence and optimism is due to the fact that it's my second year in the library...but that's not all. I think some of the success goes to this little guy...

What is a mouse doing in a library?  Great question!

A couple of days before school started, I was straightening books in the 800s (Literature) section of the library. A title caught my eye...What Writers Do. I started thinking about what a great theme that would be for our year -- exploring books through the lens of what the authors did to create the literature and text.

Imagine the possibilities!

That led to my thinking about the book Library Mouse, by Daniel Kirk. It's a picture book of a mouse who lives in the library and begins writing his own books. Eventually, he inspires the kids to begin writing and to see themselves as authors.

Well, you can imagine what happened next...I jumped in my car and zoomed over to the pet store to find our own library mouse.

Once school started, I began introducing the theme and the mouse to our students. As you can guess, they were enthralled. I read mouse picture books (If You Take a Mouse to School, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Library Mouse) to our K-2 students, and had our 3r-5th graders vote on read-alouds featuring a mouse as the main character. The Tale of Desperaux, The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle were the clear favorites.

I developed resources around the mouse theme, such as a library introduction unit for our K-2 students. Mouse theme signs and posters decorate the library this year.
A Mouse at the Library

I had the kids vote on a name for the mouse. First, each student submitted a potential name. Then, with the help of my library volunteers, we narrowed 600 names down to eleven. Then I had each student vote. At the end of the week, the students had selected "Nibbles" as our library mouse's name.

In my next post, I'll tell you about how we are exploring the theme of what writers do. I am so excited to share what the kids are doing!